What is Glaucoma and how can it affect me?
Many of us have heard the term Glaucoma, but unless you or someone close is affected by it, you probably don’t know much about it. It is a common eye problem, especially in older people, although it can affect people of any age. If you have ever wondered what it is and what to be aware of, here is our guide to Glaucoma:
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases which share similar symptoms and effects; damage to the optic nerve, elevated eye pressure and gradual loss of vision. The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain and is responsible for transferring what the eye sees to the brain, so that the brain can process and make sense of the image.
With the most common types of Glaucoma, the damage to the optic nerve usually occurs through a build-up of fluid within the eye, between the cornea (the clear outermost layer) and the iris (the coloured part of your eye surrounding the pupil). A healthy eye always contains fluid but excess drains naturally through tiny tubes. When this fluid cannot drain and starts accumulating, it causes pressure within the eye, known as intraocular pressure. In turn, this puts pressure on the optic nerve and other nerves attached to the retina, causing pain and reduced vision.
Types of Glaucoma
In the UK and other western countries, the most common type of Glaucoma is called Primary Open Angle Glaucoma, or Chronic Glaucoma. It is thought that up to 90% of Glaucoma patients have this form of the condition. Because it is a result of drainage channels becoming gradually blocked, it typically develops slowly, with patients often not realising they have it until they have tests which indicate its presence. The ‘open angle’ part of the name refers to there being a wide, open angle where the iris and cornea meet.
Another type is called Angle Closure Glaucoma, which is named because in this type the angle of the space where the iris and cornea meet closes up and blocks the drainage channels. In contrast to open-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma usually has a sudden and noticeable onset of symptoms which require immediate medical attention. It is also known as Acute Glaucoma.
There are further types of Glaucoma which are rarer, some of which include; Congenital Glaucoma, found in babies who have a developmental abnormality in the eye, Secondary Glaucoma, which develops as a result of another eye condition or trauma to the eye and Normal-Tension Glaucoma, which is where patients’ optic nerves are damaged but the pressure and fluid within the eye are within normal ranges. It is not always clear why glaucoma occurs, although age, ethnicity, family history and the presence of other medical conditions can be increased risk factors for individuals.
What are the symptoms of Glaucoma
The most common form of the condition starts very gradually, so people are often unaware of the first stages until it is diagnosed through routine eye tests. It often affects the outer edges of your vision to begin with (your peripheral vision) and then slowly works its way inwards, narrowing your field of vision. It may be accompanied by blurring and pain. Both eyes are usually affected, but it can occur in just one.
With Acute Glaucoma, the onset can be very fast. Some or all of these symptoms may be experienced: sudden and severe eye pain, tenderness around the eyes, headaches, blurred vision, seeing halos or rings around lights, nausea or vomiting. If these symptoms occur, it is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment at A&E or a casualty unit.
How is Glaucoma Treated?
Left untreated, Glaucoma can cause sight loss and irreversible damage, so the first step in diagnosing and managing any type of Glaucoma is to attend regular eye tests, at least every 2 years or as advised by your eye health specialist.
If your optometrist suspects Glaucoma, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist for more tests and they will explain what type of Glaucoma it is, what may have caused it, how long it may have been present, how much damage has occurred and what treatment is available.
Depending on the type of Glaucoma and your symptoms, you may be offered eye drops to alleviate the pressure or possibly laser treatment or surgery.
If you have any episodes of symptoms that may be caused by Acute Glaucoma, it is important to continue seeing eye specialists regularly, even if the symptoms seem to have gone away.
Here at Sergeant & Barber Opticians of Lowestoft, we pride ourselves on offering a friendly and professional approach to eye care. To discuss your vision with an expert today, simply pop in store or call us on 01502 568 241 to book an appointment.
To book an eye examination today or to speak to a member of our team about any eye care questions you may have, give us a call today on 01502 568241.